Judge Keosian, presiding over the Los Angeles County Superior Court, has issued a tentative ruling in a defamation lawsuit brought by Richard Simmons against American Media, Inc., et. al. (the media company that owns the National Enquirer) dismissing the suit on the grounds that being “misidentified as transgender is not libelous per se.”
In June, 2016, the National Enquirer published an article with the headline: “Richard Simmons: He’s Now a Woman!” The article also claimed Simmons had “undergone shocking sex surgery to change from a man to a woman.” Simmons’ complaint alleges the company had knowledge at the time of publication that the allegations made in the article were false.
According to the opinion, “such [a misidentification] does not expose ‘any person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or which causes him to be shunned or avoided, or which has a tendency to injure him in his occupation.’ While, as a practical matter, the characteristic may be held in contempt by a portion of the population, the court will not validate those prejudices by legally recognizing them.”
In order to prevail in a defamation suit seeking to recover “emotional damages caused by the allegedly defamatory statement, Simmons must be able to show, as a threshold matter, that the allegedly defamatory statement on its face was the type of statement that would ‘naturally tend’ to injure one’s reputation. The mere fact that Simmons may have suffered emotional distress because of the false statements is insufficient by itself.”
“This court finds that because courts have long held that a misidentification of certain immutable characteristics do not naturally tend to injure one’s reputation, even if there is a sizeable portion of the population who hold prejudices against those characteristics, misidentification of a person as transgender is not actionable defamation absent special damages.”
Judge Keosian’s tentative ruling invited the defendant to file a motion for attorneys’ fees. A final ruling on this case is expected in the near future.